When your favorite house of horrors releases four movies within a two-week period leading up to Halloween, you definitely take notice. And when they’re only available via Amazon Prime’s streaming service, you scramble to do everything you can to review them on time, regardless of your terrible domestic internet connection. This is life during a worldwide pandemic. All-new entertainment options must be embraced, regardless of their distribution method, and immediately.
Welcome to the Blumhouse is what this collection is being labelled, possibly as an introduction to new viewers of the production company’s films for the small screen and possibly used to grow Amazon Prime Video’s horror offerings. Nocturne is a welcome addition to the Blumhouse family of films, depicting twin girls attending an elite boarding school, both of whom have aspirations to attend Julliard when they graduate. As trained pianists, their competition is already tough, but when the highly publicized senior music showcase opens up after a strange set of circumstances leads the former student to taker her own life, an open competition to replace her role sets off some good old-fashioned hate among this sibling rivalry.
“There’s more to life than solos and spotlights.”
When the competition ends, older sister Vivian (played by Madison Iseman, previously seen in Annabelle Comes Home, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) is victorious, while strange behavior overcomes younger sister Juliet (Sydney Sweeney, previously seen in The Handmaid’s Tale, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood), when she obtains the journal of the dead student. Music obviously plays a huge role in this film, as it depicts the overall mood of the storyline and even its characters’ intentions. Ever lurking in V’s shadows, jealousy can be a killer drug for Juliet, who’s already taking anti-anxiety meds, possibly unstable. Viv has the boyfriend, the skills and possibly the college scholarship already wrapped up… but then the storyline gets very interesting at the hour mark (WHY did it have to take so long to develop?).
Something supernatural is afoot. As Juliet gains confidence, taking control of her life, Viv’s life bottoms out and everything’s being predicted by the dead girl’s journal. Teenagers are naturally little horrors; being incredibly cruel to one another seems like natural behavior. As Juliet’s assertiveness blossoms, she experiences drugs for the first time, sex for the first time and life for the first time. How could she ever fail?
“Music is a bloodsport. If you really wanted that spotlight, you wouldn’t let anything get in your way.”
This is a story about sacrifices and sacrificial offerings, but it takes a while to get there (although speeding past the super-slow burn of The Lie). While I’d never heard of director Zu Quirke (or Veena Sud, for that matter), Nocturne feels like Storytelling 101 was following the layout of Roman Polansky’s classic, Rosemary’s Baby, which I will probably lovingly admire for the rest of my life, along with the director’s Chinatown (but definitely not his criminal personal life).
Once Moira’s past is revealed, there’s only one scary moment, but no true jump scares (and no return to the storyline, unfortunately). That could have easily been increased. It’s implied the older sis was supposed to be sacrificed… although it never really happens. And the worst offense: There is never an audible or visual pact with the devil for Juliet’s success, or revelation it’s actually Satan pulling the strings, but The Devil’s Trill gets introduced. I actually wanted more of this plot device and less of the high school drama. I would have liked to see the tables turned, as the demon wanted more from J, possibly bringing a true Carrie-like bloodbath. I was also expecting the older sister to take out some sort of revenge on the younger sis before her recital, but that never materialized, either.
All in all, this feels like tame terror, not necessarily in a PG-13 kind of way, but like the storyline was limited by its direction. Seems like a continuous trend for Welcome to Blumhouse’s offerings. Unlike Polanski’s usual conclusions, this one is does not feature an uncertain future for the protagonist, who’s also the antagonist (another familiar twist for the umbrella series).
There’s some interesting genre entertainment connections among the cast, including Julie Benz (previously voicing an important role in the Halo Universe), Brandon Keener (The Purge: Anarchy, Mass Effect 3), Bryce McKinney (American Horror Story: 1984) and John Rothman (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Ghostbusters).
“She plays like the devil is at the door…”
At some point, this family drama turns into revenge horror, and that’s when it starts getting good. Much like The Lie, the storyline takes way too long to develop, losing my interest in the process. But at least this one has more enjoyable main characters. It’s clear these movies are being released specifically for streaming services, and would not be successful as big-screen releases. And that’s OK. They are what they are: minor horror offerings offering small-screen scares.